Feb. 2, 2005 - Extensive utility upgrades in anticipation of future development in Marana have left a strip of Grier Road little more than a torn-up, dirt path between Sandario and Lon Adams roads.

Residents of Marana's Grier Road neighborhood say they've felt the brunt of the town's growing pains as their homes rest within the bounds of Marana's future main hub.

Depending on the weather, it's been either a mud-slicked eyesore or a dust-infested corridor for several months - in both cases a mess, residents say.

"I wonder if they even know what they're doing, to tell the truth," said 68-year-old Dick Wills, a minister who lives in the house next door to his church, First Baptist Church of Avra Valley, at the corner of Grier and Sandario roads.

"I hate to complain and I'm a patient person, but every time it rains, it turns into mud. It's gone on for months. It's just been a mess," he said.

However, Wills acknowledges, when a town grows as much as Marana's going to grow, pain is inevitable.

And as Town Manager Mike Reuwsaat says, "It has to get a little bit worse before it gets better."

"We've made a special effort on Grier Road to improve it and enhance the quality of their lives, and that's a substantial contribution of the entire community toward those residences," he said.

Town officials said the routine Grier Road repaving job slowed when officials discovered caverns under the road surface that could have collapsed under the weight of a bus or a large truck. Construction crews linked the problem to an old irrigation pipeline built in the 1960s that was severely leaking under the intersection at McDuff Road, said Jim DeGrood, executive assistant to the town manager.

Still, the underlying pains for Grier Road residents don't revolve only around the roadway they live on. It's the development that will inevitably occur in the area abutting their backyards to the south, ceasing the existence of their favored way of life.

Gary Henley and other Grier Road residents formed a neighborhood coalition in the fall as an attempt to gain some input on the town's plans, fearing they might be overrun by developers.

"We wanted to explain that we are here and we would like to maintain our neighborhood," Henley said. "We don't want to see high-rise houses pop up behind us. We don't know what they're going to do and we'd like to have some input."

After meeting a couple of times as a group in October, they met with town officials Nov. 11 and presented a list of concerns that addressed potential problems. Henley said officials, including Reuwsaat, told them they would "rethink things" after hearing their concerns, but that's the only response they've gotten.

"There's an expectation they're going to have those fears," Reuwsaat said. "That farmland is going to have houses and businesses and it is going to go urban. To that extent, they're going to lose that feeling of small-world town."

The town has made attempts to keep residents happy with new street lighting and promises of sewer connections on Grier, but others feel they've gotten the run-around. And the town hasn't exactly been forthcoming with the Grier Road construction, Henley said.

"It was supposed to have been done last year, in November, then February, and now April," he said.

And only the few residents whose houses are west of a new road being constructed into Grier will get sewer connections immediately, he said. Other residents will tie into another connection with nearby schools at a later time.

Henley was one of several residents who gave up 10 feet of his property to make way for a retention basin constructed in his backyard, which he said was supposed to have landscaping. "Who's going to take care of that?" he said.

Henley, who built his house in 1986, has lived in the Grier Road neighborhood for almost 20 years. And, like many others, he prefers his rural way of life.

Rob Fehrmann, another Grier Road resident, said the constant clouds of dust kicked up by passing traffic during the construction phase have been more than burdensome. About once a week, he said, he's had to clean his computer inside his home, as well as wash his car and the outside of his house.

"The road situation has been a mess for the last year and a half," he said. "I'll be glad when it's finished. But it's just kind of a fact of life - no one likes progress when it's in their backyard."

But the main worry for Fehrmann, too, is falling victim to urban development. What were once cotton fields surrounding his home are now the sites of future housing developments.

"I think some of the bigger concerns are: Are they going to have four-story condos going up behind us, so they can look down on our backyards?" he said. "It's obvious that out here we all enjoy our rural life. And that's changing.

"I probably will find some place that's further out in the country at some point in time because of this - because that's just my lifestyle," he added.

The existing Rancho Marana Specific Plan, approved by the town in the late 1980s, entitles the owners of the land to the south of the homes on Grier Road to several land uses, including commercial and residential. The area immediately behind the Grier Road homes is zoned high density residential and calls for a 100-foot setback for any two-story buildings, Reuwsaat said in a letter to Henley.

Unfortunately, Fehrmann said, no one can complain about development, because if anyone wanted to stop it, they could have bought the property themselves.

"No one tried to buy that piece of land," he said. "And the person who did happens to want to develop it."

Fehrmann said contractors have tried their best to keep residents happy during Grier Road construction. However, "Everything that could go wrong has," including broken gas lines and the accidental cutting of fiber-optics cables. Some residents even complained they had their mailboxes knocked over.

"I'm sick and tired of it, but this is progress. Obviously, at some juncture, this will be the main hub of Marana," Fehrmann said. And, when it's all said and done, he joked, "We'll have the best road in town."

Residents aren't the only ones feeling the pain of Marana's growth spurt, said Bob Thomas, Marana Unified School District director of operations. The torn up Grier Road caused changes to bus schedules this year, he said.

"It's been something we've had to work around," he said. "It's been a long, drawn-out project so far. We've had to re-route through some neighborhoods. It takes us a bit longer to get where we need to go."

Crews are now working to seal up and finalize an irrigation pipeline and storm drain, DeGrood said. After that's done, other work such as sidewalks and curbs will follow.

Contractor D.L. Withers gave an update to the town Jan. 25 announcing that April is now the expected completion date for the project. Work began early last summer and was supposed to be complete in November, DeGrood said. However, the severe leakage problems slowed things a bit.

DeGrood said the discovery of leaks led to improving of the irrigation ditches that ran under resident's driveways. The system now has been adapted to accommodate storm water.

"We looked at alternatives for resolving this and came to the conclusion that the irrigation pipeline needs to be replaced," he said. "We went back with a plan that turns their pipeline into a storm drain. We upsized pipes and used that as a storm drain."

DeGrood said he thinks the residents on Grier Road are happy with the changes, such as the elimination of the ditch in their front yards.

"Nobody is going to tell you they're happy about the delay, nor are we," he said. "But they have gotten free connections to the sanitary sewers as a result of this project."

DeGrood said what started as $3.8 million in road costs increased 21 percent to $4.64 million throughout the course of the project due to four major order changes.

Replacing the leaking CMID pipeline and converting it to accommodate storm drainage cost $500,000. Addressing the damage to the roadway associated with prior leaks, including finding voids and filling them cost $350,000. A $350,000 project currently on hold is the council's wish to extend Marana Main Street all the way to Sandario. Also, construction of a concrete traffic circle in front of town hall is set at $200,000.

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